Using Facebook and Instagram: effects on well-being and mental health

Can using Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms be a genuine hazard to our well-being and mental health? Are the purported benefits of digital social media outweighed by the risks?

What does the research say?

Featured articles:

*Brailovskaia, J., Margraf, J., Schillack, H., & Köllner, V. (2019). Comparing mental health of Facebook users and Facebook non-users in an inpatient sample in Germany. Journal of Affective Disorders, 259, 376-381. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Background: The present study aimed to investigate differences in variables of positive mental health (PMH, i.e., emotional, psychological and social well-being) and negative mental health (NMH, i.e., somatoform complaints, depressiveness, social stress and insomnia) between clinical inpatients who use the social platform Facebook and those who do not use Facebook. Furthermore, the link between duration of daily Facebook use and mental health should be considered.

Methods: In two subsamples of inpatients of a psychosomatic rehabilitation clinic in Germany (Facebook users: N = 336, Facebook non-users: N = 265), use of Facebook, PMH and NMH were assessed via a computer survey.

Results: Facebook users had significantly higher values of three variables of NMH (i.e., depressiveness, social stress and insomnia), and significantly lower values of PMH than Facebook non-users. Duration of daily Facebook use was significantly negatively associated with PMH and significantly positively with all variables of NMH.

Limitations: Given the cross-sectional study design, current data do not imply causality.

Conclusion: Current results indicate that Facebook use is negatively associated with PMH and positively with NMH in clinical inpatients. Thus, future research should investigate whether and how Facebook use may have a negative effect on the recovery process of the inpatients.”

*Hardy, B. W., & Castonguay, J. (2018). The moderating role of age in the relationship between social media use and mental well-being: An analysis of the 2016 general social survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 85, 282-290. [Cited by]

“The relationship between using social networking sites (SNS) and mental health is a thriving area of research producing mixed results. While terms such as “Facebook depression” have gained popularity in the mainstream press, there is not a consensus on the relationship between SNS use and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Mixed results from past research hint that age might moderate the SNS/mental health relationship, yet no specific tests of this interaction have been previously reported. In this study, we examine the relationship by analyzing data from the 2016 General Social Survey (GSS). We show that, overall, the number of SNSs one uses is positively related to respondents reporting that they have felt like they were going to have a nervous breakdown. While this relationship is positive for respondents 30 years old and older, it is negative for those who are 18–29 years olds.”

*Manuoğlu, E., & Uysal, A. (2020). Motivation for different Facebook activities and well-being: A daily experience sampling study. Psychology of Popular Media., 9(4), 456-464. [Cited by]

“In the present study, we investigated the association between 4 different Facebook activities, motivation behind these activities, and well-being using a self-determination theory perspective. We first explored whether subjective frequency of 4 different Facebook activities have different effects on daily well-being. Moreover, we hypothesized that self-determined motivation for these activities, independent of their subjective frequencies, would be associated positively with daily well-being. Seventy-one participants completed daily records over 14 days and reported their subjective frequency of engaging in different Facebook activity categories (i.e., exploring, sharing, liking, and friending), their motivation for engaging in these activities, and their daily well-being. Results showed that daily frequency of activity type did not predict daily well-being. However, self-determined motivation for these activities was associated positively with daily well-being, after controlling for frequency. These findings suggest that motivation behind Facebook activities is important for daily well-being, rather than the type of activity or its frequency.

“This study suggests that the more Facebook use is motivated by external or internal pressures, the more it is detrimental to one’s daily well-being. When individuals use Facebook depending on their own interest and enjoyment, rather than other Facebook users’ opinions, they are more likely to have higher well-being outcomes, such as positive affect and self-esteem.

*Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: A longitudinal study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 185(3), 203-211. [PDF] [Cited by]

“Face-to-face social interactions enhance well-being. With the ubiquity of social media, important questions have arisen about the impact of online social interactions. In the present study, we assessed the associations of both online and offline social networks with several subjective measures of well-being. We used 3 waves (2013, 2014, and 2015) of data from 5,208 subjects in the nationally representative Gallup Panel Social Network Study survey, including social network measures, in combination with objective measures of Facebook use. We investigated the associations of Facebook activity and real-world social network activity with self-reported physical health, self-reported mental health, self-reported life satisfaction, and body mass index. Our results showed that overall, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with well-being. For example, a 1-standard-deviation increase in “likes clicked” (clicking “like” on someone else’s content), “links clicked” (clicking a link to another site or article), or “status updates” (updating one’s own Facebook status) was associated with a decrease of 5%–8% of a standard deviation in self-reported mental health. These associations were robust to multivariate cross-sectional analyses, as well as to 2-wave prospective analyses. The negative associations of Facebook use were comparable to or greater in magnitude than the positive impact of offline interactions, which suggests a possible tradeoff between offline and online relationships.”

*Sherlock, M., & Wagstaff, D. L. (2019). Exploring the relationship between frequency of Instagram use, exposure to idealized images, and psychological well-being in women. Psychology of Popular Media Culture., 8(4), 482-490. [Cited by]

“Research on the mental health effects of social networking have predominantly focused on Facebook, with limited research investigating the effects of Instagram on psychological well-being. This study aimed to address the link between Instagram use and a range of psychological variables in two parts. Participants were 129 women aged between 18 and 35 years. In Part 1, women completed a series of questionnaires related to mental health outcomes and self-perceptions. Results showed that the frequency of Instagram use is correlated with depressive symptoms, self-esteem, general and physical appearance anxiety, and body dissatisfaction and that the relationship between Instagram use and each of these variables is mediated by social comparison orientation. In Part 2, participants were exposed to a range of either beauty, fitness, or travel Instagram images (or a control condition with no images). Beauty and fitness images significantly decreased self-rated attractiveness, and the magnitude of this decrease correlated with anxiety, depressive symptoms, self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. Therefore, excessive Instagram use may contribute to negative psychological outcomes and poor appearance-related self-perception, in line with prior research. The research has implications for interventions and education about chronic Instagram use.”

*Wright, E. J., White, K. M., & Obst, P. L. (2018). Facebook false self-presentation behaviors and negative mental health. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21(1), 40-49. [Cited by]

“As research examining what constitutes Facebook false self-presentation is lacking, the aim of this study was to develop a preliminary inventory of Facebook false self-presentation behaviors, as well as identify predictors and possible outcomes. Participants (N = 211) completed questions regarding frequency of engagement in Facebook false self-presentation behaviors, as well as self-esteem, social influences, motivation strategies, well-being, depression, anxiety, and stress. Results indicated the presence of two distinct false self-presentation behaviors: lying (e.g., untruthful status updates, profile creation) and liking behaviors (e.g., liking posts dishonestly), each associated with different predictors and outcomes. Results indicated that moral norms significantly predicted lying behaviors; and age, self-esteem, group norms, and moral norms significantly predicted liking behaviors. Unexpectedly, liking behaviors were associated with depression, anxiety, and stress, whereas lying behaviors were related to anxiety only. Findings highlight associations between online self-presentation strategies, in particular liking behaviors, on Facebook and possible offline negative mental health.”

These articles have been added to Science Primary Literature (external database).

And, the most current version of this bibliography can be found in Science Bibliographies Online (external database).

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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